Welcome to Kenyalang Circus. Translated as “Hornbill Circus” from Sarawak Malay, Kenyalang Circus interrogates the possibility of the authentic in a neoliberal culture of icons, taking a satirical eye to the commercialisation of Borneo and Sarawak as “Malaysia’s exotic unknown.” For Sarawakian Marcos Kueh, the graphic designer behind these works, this project is personal: it traces the faultline of heritage between inherited past and internalised exotification.
Kueh’s compositional logic is that of the collage: figures consisting of images from newspapers, magazines, or other pop culture referents are cut up and arranged on a ground of grid paper and masking tape. The third and final layer is that of a marker pen, the ringmaster of the eponymous circus who narrates our experience of the images. The text ties the images together, a critical annotative voice in a sea of commercial goods. A recurring “H” and “A” echoes in the text: a peal of hollow, maniacal laughter.
If home is the subject of this work, what then can we make of the “journey back home” that bookends the work? Kenyalang Circus suggests that the very idea of home is slippery. Authenticity, as defined by an original, pure conception of culture, is as much a myth as the folktales Kueh draws from for his work. If commerce is one of the many facets with which we might find an idea of home, perhaps it is a different kind of truth, one that requires the whimsical glasses of a personality like Kueh’s. “Maybe next year i’ll adopt Moscow,” he writes, “life is such a weird ass game show.”
Marcos Kueh is a Sarawakian designer who has always had a desire to better understand his place and identity as a Malaysian. He is currently studying graphic design at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, but has a part-time obsession and a full-time love affair with textiles. He believes in the reflective power of storytelling and in the many thanks we can learn from the past, be it an hour ago or a decade ago. Check out his work here.